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The disillusioned voters of Gwadar

February 14, 2008

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AT the age of 32, which is relatively young to be disillusioned by the political processes of the country, Din Mohammed is dismissive of the forthcoming general elections and does not intend to bother casting a vote on Feb 18.

“Once these so-called political leaders are elected to office, they don’t even help out in our small issues or problems,” observed this man who works in the small boat-building industry in Gwadar. And though he conceded that he may perhaps vote if a candidate were to approach him, as he had in the last elections, Din Mohammed does not now remember that candidate’s name or the party with which he was affiliated.

Din Mohammed was born in Gwadar and has been associated with the boat-building industry for the past 20 years. Having witnessed the steps taken towards the development of Pakistan’s third deep sea port at close quarters, therefore, he is today bitter about the fact that it has brought no prosperity for him or his colleagues. “It is only the rich who are buying up the land,” he complained to Dawn.

Far angrier about the current administration’s failure is Ellahi Bukhsh, who is also associated with the boat-building industry. He is uncertain about his age but he knows for sure that he will not cast his vote on Monday.

“I don’t see any point in taking part in the elections,” he said. “Once these politicians are elected, they will start carving out plots for themselves. Each of them already has five or six plots in Gwadar; what good have they done us so far?”

Unaware or possibly uncaring of the level of bitterness amongst the poor of the tribal areas of Balochistan, the contesting candidates of various political parties are meanwhile carrying on with their electoral campaigns. According to Ellahi Bukhsh, even the female members of the candidates’ families are out visiting households in Gwadar, urging the women to go to the polling stations on Feb 18 to cast their votes.

And, perhaps, the campaigns are having some effect since Abid Jan, who owns a small grocery store in the port city, told Dawn that he was determined to cast his vote. “Yes, I will definitely vote,” he said.

“I’ll vote for the bicycle.” Asked which party was represented by this election symbol and who the local candidate affiliated with it was, however, Abid Jan professed his ignorance of both.

With a population of roughly 125,000 people, Balochistan’s Gwadar district comprises Ormara, Pasni, Jiwani and Kech, and has 85,733 registered voters. For National Assembly seats, the district is included under NA-272 (Kech-Gwadar) and is represented in the provincial assembly by PB-51. During the 2002 elections, a total of 26,771 votes were polled in the region when Zobaida Jalal won the National Assembly seat and the provincial assembly seat was won by independent candidate Syed Sher Jan Baloch.

In the upcoming elections, former federal minister Zobaida Jalal is contesting for NA-272 as an independent candidate, having rejected the PML-Q’s offer for a seat reserved for women. She is being challenged by Dr Mohammed Haider Baloch of the Pakistan People’s Party, the PML-N’s Abdul Qadeer, Yaqoob Bizenjo of the Balochistan National Party (Awami) and independent candidates Syed Sher Jan Baloch and Mufti Ahtisham-ul-Haq.

The contest for the provincial assembly seat, meanwhile, is between independent candidates Ashraf Hussain, Syed Mayar Jan Noori and Mir Challar Saeed, PML-Q ticket-holder Mir Hamal Kalmati and the PPP’s

Abdul Rahim Zafar.

While the outcome will not be apparent until Feb 19, at a place called Kund Malir along the Makran Coastal Highway, a fish market worker told Dawn that he intended to vote for former Balochistan chief minister, Jam Yousaf of the PML-Q. “He and his family enjoy a good reputation in the Lasbella district,” said Abdul Hameed.

Representatives of opposition parties are less convinced of fair play. The Balochistan president of the PPP, Haji Lashkari Raisani, criticised the role of the agencies which, he said, were using a variety of pressure tactics against his party’s candidates. “They are patronising the drug mafia and people with questionable backgrounds,” he maintained.

“Meanwhile, the so-called Gwadar mega-project has failed to bring any benefits for the people while huge sums are being allocated towards the establishment of cantonments in the province.”

Pointing out that the PPP had restructured and reorganised its cadre, Haji Raisani expressed great hopes in terms of his party’s performance on Feb 18 and said that the assassination of Benazir Bhutto had created a wave of public sympathy for the party.

Bearing out these sentiments to some extent, the president of the Anjuman-i-Zameendaran Gwadar, Mir Naveed Kalmati, said the manner of Ms Bhutto’s death had washed away the ill-will generated by the army action in the province during the 1970s, during the tenure of the then PPP government. He raised the point that after her return to the country on Oct 18, the slain chairperson of the PPP had called for an end to the ongoing operation in Balochistan.